Writing annual reflections is always difficult. How do you summarise a 365-day period into a succinct story with a compelling narrative? How do you capture the highs and inevitable lows and general tedium that goes into a year of life?
I am sitting in my soon-to-be-father-in-law’s kitchen, watching the rain smear the window as the Oude Kerk of Delft leans precariously over the nearby canal, chiming out the bells of Christmas Day. I have had time to reflect on the year that’s gone, thanks to the happy timing of catching the flu in the run-up to Christmas.
It has, at times, been a year of false starts, with a few injuries and illnesses meaning my initial running goals for the year had to be re-evaluated to, essentially, as much as I could do. Mentally, things have been hard at times, too, sometimes down to those false starts. But that’s the roll of the dice sometimes, and having no goal on which I was really failing means the consequences are minor.
While running might have been on the back burner this year, I still have had some amazing adventures, both on foot and by bike. Some of them have been written about on this blog, like the GTJ and the Hebridean Way. Regardless of how many kilometres were ran or cycled overall, those that were will be remembered incredibly fondly. I saw stunning landscapes and wildlife, and spent them with dear friends.
Meanwhile, I had some jaw-droppingly cool opportunities which I could never have imagined at the start of the year.
If anything, this year has been a real self-affirming year, where people have put faith in my abilities and valued them, too. The publication of Running Adventures Scotland in May was the end result of an 18-month project that took up much of 2021 for me, and a life goal I did not expect to achieve so soon.
The wonderful people at Vertebrate Publishing (especially Commissioning Editor Kirsty Reade, Editor Helen Parry and marketeer Rae Helm) did an amazing job of turning the words I gave them into a truly stunning book, and I am indebted for the faith they put in me.
I think it is easy for me to say “It’s only a guidebook/ it’s quite formulaic/ it’s fairly straightforward”, but this is a gross understatement (as my fiancee likes to regularly point out). The whole project took up most of my evenings in the latter part of 2021 – writing up routes, researching new ones – but because it was such a pleasure, it hardly felt like work.
I am immensely proud to see my book in a bookshop, and I double-take when I see someone I don’t even know and haven’t asked to walk around with the book casually strolling around with it under their arm (this actually happened several times at Kendal Mountain Festival, which was surreal).
It’s a joke between authors that people ask you “How’s the book going?!” The answer I want to give: It doesn’t matter. As Jane says in Jane The Virgin “I’m a published freaking author!” The boring answer is “Pretty well”. We have sold over 1000 copies, which is bonkers to think. The feedback I have had has been wonderful, and I can only hope people use it to explore the beautiful country of Scotland in a joyous way.
After the general madness that comes after a book’s publication, I did not have long before the next thing came knocking. I have not written a blog about my experience on the Transcontinental Race because it is almost too difficult to succinctly recount. But maybe it will emerge!
The Transcontinental (TCR) is a 4000km unsupported bikepacking race across Europe where riders plot their own route from start to end via a series of checkpoints. I was immensely honoured to be selected as the Race Reporter for the event, working alongside one of the most motivated, talented and funniest people I have ever worked with.
As we drove from Belgium to Bulgaria, I wrote daily stories from the Race, working alongside the podcast wizard Tom Probert to bring the literal highs and lows of one of the toughest bike races out there to our audience. It was a life-changing experience.
Travel has never been my forte, and I was so nervous as I waited on the platform in Oxeholme to begin my journey across Europe. It transpired to be one of the best experiences I could imagine, and I met so many fantastic people along the way.
It was followed soon after by the Trans Pyrenees Race, the sister to TCR, also run by Lost Dot. Instead of a linear route, TPR was an out-and-back across the Pyrenees in October, with riders climbing cols synonymous with the Vuelta a Espana and Tour de France. For almost a week, we criss-crossed these dramatic peaks, chasing riders, writing stories, recording podcasts and having bags of fun every step of the way.
The obvious people to thank are Anna Haslock, David Ayre and Andrew Phillips, who are the engine behind Lost Dot and gave me such a fantastic opportunity. Thanks also to my ‘colleagues’ Tom Probert and Iain Broome who produced a fantastic series of podcasts for each race, plus Stef Amato for coordinating us rabble-rousers. And thanks, of course, to photographers James Robertson, Charlotte Gamus, Liz Seabrook and Tomas Lopez plus all the CP photographers for producing such incredible images.
Most of all, thank you to the riders who shared their stories of the races, as well as all those who read and shared the reports
Finally, November saw me hosting two talks at the Kendal Mountain Festival. Having been to KMF several times, it had always been a hope of mine that, one day, I might present a few events.
I got a call from Paul Scully one day inviting me to host an event alongside Renee McGregor about her book More Fuel You. Not long after, he asked if I would also host a conversation with ultra-running legend Damian Hall about his book We Can’t Run Away From This. Wait for an opportunity and two come at once!
I had done a little hosting before, but nothing at this scale. When the lights go up, you feel as though you are the only two people in the room, only dimly aware of the audience. Both writers have produced fascinating and important books which were a joy to research.
I have received some wonderful feedback on my work as host, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and can only hope I get more opportunities next year.
If you had told me how this year would go back in January, I would not have believed you. I suppose that is what we should always remember. You can never predict the future, for better or worse, and for that I am glad.
Next year, I embark on one of my biggest adventures yet (as cliche as it sounds). I have a wedding to plan for April with my incredible fiancee (who regularly features in this blog) and have exciting honeymoon plans in the works! More on that in due course.
A very minor adventure goal: I would like to finish the Wainwright’s this year. I am about 70% done with the 214 tops and, albeit totally arbitrary, I would like to visit the fells I don’t often go to in my local patch.
Also, I want 2023 to be a year of adventures. Not even big ones, but (as is the parlance) microadventures which get me thinking differently and spending more nights out of my own bed. It’s something Bo and I say a lot of the time, but it’s something I want to commit to.
I would like to write and photograph more in 2023. I know – it’s a classic one. Recently, however, I have become aware of my near-crippling awareness of what other’s think of what I am doing and basing what I do on how well I think I will do them. It’s stopped me pursuing a number of things, or pressing ‘publish’ on several blogs, or ‘send’ on several pitches to magazines. I am not someone who enjoys being bad at something, because it makes me feel exposed. But I need to challenge that fear and just crack on with things I am interested in.
Personally, I need to find more things that make me happy. For too long my happiness has been dictated to by sport. Whilst that is a good thing, and being fit and healthy is something we should all do, I need to be open to more things which bring me joy. At times in 2022, when I cannot run, I felt adrift, without an anchor to tether me. As I walk around depressed because of a fresh injury, I realise I am choosing to be unhappy, and should instead focus on things I can do and also bring me joy.
Now, it’s time to rest, reflect, reset, and go into 2023 with an open-mind and be excited for opportunities both known and unknown. Thank you to everyone who helped make this year incredibly memorable, and gave me many fantastic opportunities.
And, of course, thanks to you – the reader! This little blog has seen a year of droughts and floods, but I have enjoyed having you along for the ride.
All the best to you and your family and friends for 2023! Keep exploring.